Card Thief ($1.99) by Arnold Rauers is the follow-up to the cult classic Card Crawl, which is one of my favorite iOS games in the past few years. If you enjoy stealth and solitaire-style card games, then Card Thief is a perfect match for you.
Lately, a lot of my time has been spent with my Nintendo Switch and Zelda, but I’ve been turning to my iPhone for quick games when I want a break from saving Hyrule. As I mentioned already, Card Crawl is a personal favorite of mine in the past two years (it came out in March 2015), because it combined two of my favorite genres: card games and dungeon crawlers. It was also a rather difficult game, but I still kept coming back to it in futile attempts to do better than my previous run. I still have Card Crawl on my device, but it’s been a while since I’ve played it, to be honest. However, once I heard that a follow-up was coming, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Needless to say, Card Thief is a worthy successor and does not disappoint.
If you had played Card Crawl, then the visuals of Card Thief should look familiar. The game features the same graphic novel-esque art style that captured the hearts of Card Crawl fans, but things look to be even more detailed this time around. Your thief character looks sly right off the bat, and the enemy guards you encounter have their own gruff appearance as well, and facial expressions on everyone provide nice clues as to how you’re doing even before confirming your move. The colors are definitely darker during the actual gameplay, but there are some nice vibrant hues when you are navigating through the main title screen and other sections of the game. The typography is still the same as in Card Crawl, and while it’s fairly thematic, it’s still legible when you need to read text, such as what a card does or when you go through the tutorial. Animations in Card Thief are buttery smooth and fluid, so there is no lag on my iPhone 7. The ambient soundtrack is rather haunting, and the sound effects are nice and provide you with clues as to whether you’ll be caught or not. I believe that Rauers has another hit on his hands with the superb visual and audio design in Card Thief, but this shouldn’t be surprising given the success of Card Crawl.
Card Thief features a map with four different areas that you can play through. While this does not sound like a lot at all, the game is fairly difficult and requires a lot of strategy and thinking to get through, so it may be a while before you get all areas unlocked and ready to play. On the first launch, there is a somewhat lengthy tutorial to go through if you want, and it explains all of the basics that you need to know. It’s recommended to go through it because Card Thief is much more intricate and complex than Card Crawl, but this is not necessarily a bad thing.
The goal in Card Thief is pretty simple: move your thief through the deck of cards by sneaking around in the shadows, extinguishing torches, pickpocketing guards, and stealing shiny treasures along the way, all without getting caught. Sounds easy enough, right? However, be warned — this game requires a lot of proper planning and strategizing, because if you don’t, then you’ll be snuffed out much sooner rather than later. Once you get through the entire deck of cards for an area (the number of cards remaining is shown in the top left corner), then you have beat that stage and can move on to the next castle.
Controls in Card Thief are intuitive and easy to pick up. Cards will be arranged randomly on a 3×3 grid, with your thief always showing up first before the other cards. To move the thief, all you have to do is tap on adjacent cards (you can also move diagonally) to create a path, as long as you have enough Sneak points (shown at the top) to move around. When you are ready to move along the path you just created, just tap-and-hold on the thief card to see it play out. You can also long-press on any card to read about what it does, which would be helpful when you first start playing.
Since you are a thief, you have to move in the shadows to avoid being caught. If there are torches on the board, they illuminate adjacent cards, so guards will spot you easily. To extinguish the light, move your thief on top of those cards and that area will once again be in darkness. Guard cards have arrows on them that indicate the direction that they are looking at, so if you want to pickpocket them and dispatch them, make sure to strike them from their blind spot. There will also be chests that you can loot, though you may need keys to open them, which are also needed to get through some door cards.
When you are able to get through all of the cards in the deck and reach the exit, then you’ve successfully cleared that heist and you’ll see your score, which depends on how much treasure you managed to steal. Another thing that becomes available when you’re successful are the equipment cards, which you can unlock and upgrade through the Guild Master each time you complete a heist. You can take up to three equipment cards with you at a time, so Card Thief does incorporate a bit of a mini deck building mechanic in the gameplay once you have acquired a handful of them. These equipment cards have their own unique abilities to use in the game, which can vastly improve your high scores.
As I mentioned, there are four different heist areas for you to test your stealth and tactical card skills in. Additionally, though, there is a daily heist level each day, where you can compete with other global players for the best high score possible. This is perfect if you’re a competitive person, and it gives you a new challenge each day, so there is plenty of reason to come back even if you are done with everything else in the game.
I’m still only on the first heist, which I have yet to beat, but I’m finding the game to be excellent. I was a huge fan of Card Crawl (it took me a while to get good at that one too), so I was excited to get my hands on Card Thief. The graphics are stylish and stunning on Retina screens, the music and sounds are captivating and immersive, and the controls are simple. The rules do take a bit of getting used to, and even after you go through the tutorial you may be confused as to how some things work, but I think the best way to get better is to just keep playing and observing how everything plays out. Card Thief is also a great challenge, and it will keep you busy for quite some time, so you’re definitely getting a lot of bang for your buck.
I highly recommend checking out Card Thief if you were a fan of Card Crawl, or just enjoy stealth and card games in general. Card Thief is available on the App Store as a universal download for your iPhone and iPad for just $1.99. There are no in-app purchases.